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Photo courtesy of The Buffalo Chronicle.

Being a physician is hard. I often choose to focus on the more rewarding aspects of my job. I find it satisfying to provide diverse and skillful care. There is privilege in experiencing glimpses of the most vulnerable parts of my patients’ lives. Their stories of joy, pain and suffering are a humbling reminder of the beauty and fragility of human life. I’d like to explore storytelling as an element of humanism in medicine. …


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Protesters gather in Seattle, WA. Image reposted from The Chronicle

Dear [insert name here],

I have found so much comfort from many of your texts, emails, and phone calls. Thank you. I am overwhelmed with gratitude by your thoughtfulness and I often just cry reading your messages. Specifically, to my white friends and family who have allowed these visible acts of violence to mobilize their empathy into actionable solidarity, again, I thank you. The grief and exhaustion I feel because of the recent murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are indescribable. I can’t sleep. I can’t focus and I couldn’t find the words, until now.

For myself and for so many other black women, men and children in this country, “Black Lives Matter” is our literal experience every, single day. Our lives are this movement come to life. We endure racism, discrimination, bigotry and hate every, single day most of which aren’t captured on video. These traumatizing experiences happen to us while living our lives on airplanes, in our workplaces, in our yoga studios, and at the schools and universities we attend. They’ve happened at the grocery store where I was called a “nigger” and sometimes, we’re even murdered in our own homes like Breonna Taylor was. I repeat. Even if you don’t see them on video; they’re happening and have been happening for centuries. I can only imagine the indignation my slave ancestors would feel at the insulting notion that cell phones have “opened our eyes” to the institutional and systemic injustices and perpetual violence against black people in this country. This nation was founded on racism. It rings true from sea to shining sea. If it took violence being captured on video to open your eyes to the plight of Black America, then I really feel sorry for you. Perhaps your world is too small and your communities too homogeneous. Perhaps reflecting on why you have the privilege of disconnecting from the ugliness of racism may provide some insights. …


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Farmworker Yakima, WA. Photo credit: NPR

It is substantially easier to talk about racial disparities in America than it is to actually fix them. We’ve heard of the disproportionate effect COVID-19 has on black communities in many U.S. urban cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans. In Chicago, African-Americans account for “more than half of those who have tested positive and 72 percent of virus-related fatalities, even though they make up a little less than a third of the population.” These stories of black lives no doubt reflect larger inequities of health care access, historical mistrust of health institutions and socio-economic gaps. However, this sounding of the alarm isn’t surprising. This isn’t the first time that black people have been disproportionately affected in crisis. Jim Crow rendered the treatment of African Americans appalling during the Spanish flu where they often received substandard care in segregated hospitals. “Even in death, black bodies were neglected by white public infrastructure” as white sanitation departments refused to bury them. Is the COVID-19 pandemic history repeating itself? Jim Crow traded for other forms of systemic oppression like redlining and mass incarceration. Eradicating racial disparities would mean not only acknowledging our nation’s race problem but also recognizing that racism is fundamental to America. There has not been America without slavery. Without the massacre of blacks and Native Americans. Without the suffocating reality that I, while a doctor, am still three times more likely to die from pregnancy related complications compared to a white woman with less than a high school education. …


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Image: The Babylon Bee

Is it even a thing to still use the term “woke”? Sam Sanders argues that “the muddling of the definition of woke is really what killed it” in his opinion piece entitled “It’s Time to Put Woke To Sleep.” He explains that woke came to represent a “shorthand for a worldview that values black lives” specifically contextualized by the social injustice of police brutality that fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. However, over the years since it’s resurgence, it has become a “buzzword” overused, often out of context, by well-meaning white liberals, corporations, and memes. While most would agree that words with the socio-political impact like “woke” are at risk for cultural appropriation, should that come at the expense of degrading the seriousness of its’ original intent? Even the first definition of woke in Urban Dictionary now reads “ the act of being very pretentious about how much you care about a social issue.” Is it enough to be “woke” when the white neighbor with the “In This House We Believe…” sign displayed in her front yard still doesn’t personally know anyone of color or people that identify as LGBTQ? Or, when a meme or quote on social media from so-called “woke”, bandwagon individuals in times of real, raw struggle becomes substitute for actionable solidarity? Not to mention when, in my profession, I continue to over hear “well-meaning” colleagues say things like “you know how those people are” in reference to patients and families of color, patients that may not speak English as a first language, and patients that may have lower health literacy. …


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Photo credit: African American Historical Photo Gallery

It was a warm and humid fourth of July afternoon. I was twelve and carefree, sporting festive white shorts with a blue and red sequin tank to match. I knew I was cute hanging off of the monkey bars. Racing neighborhood boys and girls up the steps of a towering jungle gym. I played and played until finally I went inside only to find a huge bloodstain on the back of my white shorts. I was shocked that it was in fact coming from my vagina. I screamed from the bathroom only to have my sisters burst into the room laughing tauntingly “You started your period! You started your period!” My wha..? I remember receiving a bulky pad, changed my shorts and ran outside. I attempted to play as before but found it awkward with what felt like a diaper between my legs and the fear that the other kids somehow knew. …

About

Thelben Mullett, M.D.

Dr. Mullett is a wife, storyteller and champion for social justice. She lives in Seattle, WA.

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